When a baby dies

When a Baby Dies:
Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents
By Ronald H. Nash (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 128 pp)

Reviewed by Paula R. Kincaid
Tuesday, April 6, 1999
https://www.layman.org/bookreviews4710/ [accessed 12/5/17]

I was crying before I finished the prologue. Ronald H. Nash begins When A Baby Dies with the story of a seminary student who described what he and his wife experienced in the birth and the death of their first child. Nash correctly observes that it is difficult to read this testimony without feeling great empathy for parents who have lost a child. He attempts to provide an answer to the question, “Is my baby with God now?”

When a Baby Dies offers a biblically grounded assurance that “all children who die in infancy and all mentally handicapped persons whose intellectual and moral judgment cannot surpass that of children are saved.” His intention is “to answer the question of infant salvation in a way that is consistent with the plain teaching of Scripture and a sound theology based on the Word of God.”

Wrong answers

The first four chapters explore several wrong approaches to the question of infant salvation.

Chapter one discusses Pelagianism, which teaches that all humans are born morally innocent. This belief ignores the fact of original sin. Nash cited Scripture, including Rom. 3:23 and Psa. 51:5, to oppose the idea that humans are born without sinful tendencies.

Universalism, the belief that all humans will eventually be saved, is discussed and dismissed in chapter two. Again, Nash cites Scripture, including Mat. 7:13-14, John 3:17-18 and Rev. 20:11-15.

Chapter three examines the teaching that when children die before they are mentally and morally responsible for their actions, the issue of their salvation is postponed until after they die. Nash quotes Scripture (Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:11-13) to negate this belief, stating, “In all these passages and more, one simple point stands out: Physical death marks the boundary of human opportunity for salvation.”

Chapter four deals with the widely held belief that baptism saves from sin. Nash finds it regrettable that many “believe and teach that infants and the mentally incapable are saved from divine judgment by virtue of the fact that they have been baptized.”

A case for infant salvation

Nash makes his case on the basis of four well-established biblical claims.

1. Infants are incapable of moral good or evil (Deu. 1:39; Jer. 19:4). Infants do not know good or evil, therefore they lack the ability to perform morally good or morally evil acts.

2. Divine judgment is administered on the basis of sins committed in the body (II Cor. 5:10; I Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 20:11-13). God’s condemnation is based on the actual commission of sins. Since infants die before they are able to perform either good or evil acts, deceased infants cannot be judged. Nash quotes theologian R.A. Webb as saying that by definition, an unregenerate infant “cannot die in infancy: such a result would defeat the ends of justice. Consequently, … all infants dying in infancy are elect, redeemed, regenerated and glorified. … The death of an infant, therefore, is the proof of its salvation.”

3. Regenerate infants (Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:15). These biblical passages give examples of infants chosen by God for salvation while still in the womb. If it happened twice, then it can surely happen in other cases.

4. Jesus and the little children (Mat. 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). Here Nash quotes 19th century Presbyterian Charles Hodge, “The conduct and language of our Lord in reference to children are not to be regarded as matters of sentiment, or simply expressive of kindly feelings. He evidently looked upon them as the lambs of the flock for which, as the good Shepherd, He laid down his life, and of whom He said they shall never perish, and no man could pluck them out of his hands.”

Reformed theology

Reformed Christians, according to Nash, believe that no human, adult or child, can be saved apart from God’s choosing them, Christ’s dying for them, and the Holy Spirit’s calling them. “If Christ died specifically for those whom God chose or elected, then infant salvation becomes possible, because God in his grace is fully capable of electing infants as well as adults.”

Benjamin Warfield, a former Princeton Seminary theologian stated, “If all that die in infancy are saved, it can only be through the almighty operation of the Holy Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases, through whose ineffable grace the Father gathers these little ones to the home He has prepared for them.” The doctrine of infant salvation, he concludes, “can find such a place in the Reformed theology. It can find such place in no other system of theological thought.”

Prenatal death - Abortion, miscarriage

The last chapter, entitled “Some final questions,” ends with a discussion of prenatal death. Nash gives a brief description of what happens at conception, then quotes several passages of Scripture (Psa. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:4-5; Luke 1:39-45) that describe the unborn in “ways that clearly imply humanity and personhood.”

John Jefferson Davis, associate professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, says such texts show “that categories normally applied to postnatal man are applied also to the unborn. … It is hard to resist the impression that God takes a deep interest in the unborn child … Far from showing that the unborn are less than persons, these texts appear, in fact, to point in the opposite direction.”

This section, as Nash readily admits, “carries unavoidable implications as to the immorality of abortion on demand.”

He believes that life in the womb is life, from the moment of conception. “And if the argument of this book about infant salvation is sound - as I obviously believe it is - then prenatal human life that is terminated either by miscarriage or abortion falls under the same general conditions of divine election as applies in the case of children who die in infancy.”

Heaven scent

Tears fell again while I read the epilogue. Entitled “Heaven Scent,” it is a story of the premature birth of Danae Lu Blessing. The story, according to a footnote, was found on the Internet and is unattributed. It’s a beautiful story of faith and hope. And it supports the belief, that yes, God does protect and care for the little ones.


Extra note by Jon Hobbs

Such teaching also gives hope for the many babies who die in infancy through war, famine and disease. A good part of the “great multitude” then will be those taken straight to heaven, and saved from the pain and hardships of this world.

There is great comfort here then for grieving parents. But there is also a gentle challenge for those who have aborted children: As adults we are responsible for the wrong we do. We therefore need to trust and follow Jesus as Christians, receive his forgiveness, and so be certain of one day joining our little one in heaven with him.